495 episodes

Interviews with Scientists about their New Books
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    • Science

Interviews with Scientists about their New Books
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    Benjamin Labatut, "When We Cease to Understand the World" (NYRB, 2021)

    Benjamin Labatut, "When We Cease to Understand the World" (NYRB, 2021)

    An interview with Benjamín Labatut, author of When We Cease to Understand the World (2021), a New York Times Top Ten Book of the Year. Benjamin and I cover an enormous amount of ground in our wide-ranging interview: we touch on Heisenberg’s uncertainty principal as a way of his writing; the failure of our societies to make room for overlapping, sometimes contradictory histories; his distaste for genre categories; the inevitable loss involved in translation; Chile’s frightening presidential election; and much much more. I know that you will be as enthralled and challenged and delighted by Benjamín’s capacious mind. 
    Benjamín Recommends:

    Juan Forn, Los Viernes


    Roberto Calasso, The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony


    Pascal Quignard, The Last Kingdom


    Elliot Weinberger, An Elemental Thing


    J.A. Baker, The Peregrine


    Georg Buchner, Lenz


    Frantisek Vlacil, Marketa Lazarova (film)


    Chris Holmes is Chair of Literatures in English and Associate Professor at Ithaca College. He writes criticism on contemporary global literatures. His book, Kazuo Ishiguro as World Literature, is under contract with Bloomsbury Publishing. He is the co-director of The New Voices Festival, a celebration of work in poetry, prose, and playwriting by up-and-coming young writers.
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    • 1 hr 14 min
    James Wynn and G. Mitchell Reyes, "Arguing with Numbers: The Intersections of Rhetoric and Mathematics" (Pennsylvania State UP, 2021)

    James Wynn and G. Mitchell Reyes, "Arguing with Numbers: The Intersections of Rhetoric and Mathematics" (Pennsylvania State UP, 2021)

    One pervasive stereotype about mathematics is that it is objective, unbiased, or otherwise exempt from the influence of human passions. James Wynn and G. Mitchell Reyes's edited collection will be a revelation even to mathematics professionals who don't take this strict view. The essays in Arguing with Numbers: The Intersections of Rhetoric and Mathematics (The Pennsylvania State UP, 2021) explore the interplays between rhetoric and mathematics that have shaped scholarly and popular culture through to the present day.
    Opening the collection are both an historical sketch of scholarship at the intersection of these disciplines, from their division in ancient Greece to their hesitant reunion since the mid-twentieth century, and also a taxonomy of modern research into three distinct approaches, which we review in our discussion. The remaining essays use these approaches to probe the impact of mathematical rhetoric on the sciences (including Hantaro Nakaoka's analogical "Saturnian" model of atomic spectra), on cultural norms and institutions (including the influence of David X. Li's Gaussian copula on the behavior of financial markets), and on relations between mathematics professionals and the lay public. This last part contains a chapter on the legacy of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics that highlights the importance to mathematics professionals of understanding the rhetorical dimensions of our discipline.
    Bookending our discussion, Drs. Wynn and Reyes related the story of their edited collection, which makes the point that a cross-disciplinary exchange is needed to help both disciplines better understand their connections to each other and more responsibly manage those connections. Their suggestions will resonate with mathematicians interested in challenging narratives of objectivity, in diversifying our ranks, and in developing responsible rules and principles for the use of social and personal data. The analytical tools demonstrated in this book abet this effort.
    Suggested companion works:


    Trust in Numbers, Theodore Porter


    Meeting the Universe Halfway, Karen Barad

    James Wynn is Associate Professor of English at Carnegie Mellon University. He is the author of Citizen Science in the Digital Age: Rhetoric, Science, and Public Engagement and Evolution by the Numbers: The Origins of Mathematical Argument in Biology.
    G. Mitchell Reyes is Professor of Rhetoric and Media Studies at Lewis and Clark College. He is author of Stranger Relations: Mathematics, Rhetoric, and the Translative Force of Mathematical Discourse (in press with Penn State University Press) and coeditor of Global Memoryscapes: Contesting Remembrance in a Transnational Age.
    Cory Brunson is an Assistant Professor at the Laboratory for Systems Medicine at the University of Florida. His research focuses on geometric and topological approaches to the analysis of medical and healthcare data.
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    • 1 hr 7 min
    Shaking the World: How Geology Can Help Us Address the Big Challenges of the 21st Century

    Shaking the World: How Geology Can Help Us Address the Big Challenges of the 21st Century

    Southeast Asia is the most tectonically and geologically active region on Earth. These processes have enriched the mountains and basins with world-famous mineral and energy resources, fresh water, and highly productive soils. However, the same geological processes are responsible for incredible destruction – from the 1991 Mount Pinatubo volcanic eruption in the Philippines to the devastating 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. These natural hazards, coupled with the effects of human-induced climate change, are driving significant change. To talk us through these changes, Dr Sabin Zahirovic joins Dr Natali Pearson on SSEAC Stories, exposing how climate change is amplifying existing vulnerabilities in Southeast Asia. He explains how understanding past and current geological process can help us reduce risks from natural hazards like earthquakes, volcanoes and tsunamis, but also address the huge challenges faced by growing populations and increased vulnerabilities resulting from climate change.
    About Sabin Zahirovic:
    Dr Sabin Zahirovic is a Robinson Fellow in the School of Geosciences at the University of Sydney. Sabin's research focuses on global plate tectonics and mantle evolution, and particularly for the Tethyan and Asian regions. He completed his PhD titled “Post-Pangea global plate kinematics and geodynamic implications for Southeast Asia” at the University of Sydney in 2015. From 2015 to 2020, he led the Papua New Guinea research stream of the ARC ITRH Basin GENESIS Hub at the University of Sydney. He now leads the Tectonics and Geodynamics stream of a collaborative industry project with BHP. In 2020, Sabin was awarded an Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA) to explore the rise and demise of massive reefs and carbonate platforms on Australian continental margins. Sabin is a past recipient of the GSA Voisey Medal, the Deep Carbon Observatory Emerging Leader Award, and the AIPS NSW Tall Poppy award.
    For more information or to browse additional resources, visit the Sydney Southeast Asia Centre’s website: www.sydney.edu.au/sseac.
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    • 15 min
    Oliver Rollins, "Conviction: The Making and Unmaking of the Violent Brain" (Stanford UP, 2021)

    Oliver Rollins, "Conviction: The Making and Unmaking of the Violent Brain" (Stanford UP, 2021)

    Exposing ethical dilemmas of neuroscientific research on violence, this book warns against a dystopian future in which behavior is narrowly defined in relation to our biological makeup. Biological explanations for violence have existed for centuries, as has criticism of this kind of deterministic science, haunted by a long history of horrific abuse. Yet, this program has endured because of, and not despite, its notorious legacy. Today's scientists are well beyond the nature versus nurture debate. Instead, they contend that scientific progress has led to a natureandnurture, biological and social, stance that allows it to avoid the pitfalls of the past. 
    In Conviction: The Making and Unmaking of the Violent Brain (Stanford UP, 2021), Oliver Rollins cautions against this optimism, arguing that the way these categories are imagined belies a dangerous continuity between past and present. The late 80s ushered in a wave of techno-scientific advancements in the genetic and brain sciences. Rollins focuses on an often-ignored strand of research, the neuroscience of violence, which he argues became a key player in the larger conversation about the biological origins of criminal, violent behavior. Using powerful technologies, neuroscientists have rationalized an idea of the violent brain--or a brain that bears the marks of predisposition towards "dangerousness." Drawing on extensive analysis of neurobiological research, interviews with neuroscientists, and participant observation, Rollins finds that this construct of the brain is ill-equipped to deal with the complexities and contradictions of the social world, much less the ethical implications of informing treatment based on such simplified definitions. Rollins warns of the potentially devastating effects of a science that promises to "predict" criminals before the crime is committed, in a world that already understands violence largely through a politic of inequality.
    C.J. Valasek is a Ph.D. Candidate in Sociology & Science Studies at the University of California San Diego.
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    • 1 hr 15 min
    Nina Kraus, "Of Sound Mind: How Our Brain Constructs a Meaningful Sonic World" (MIT Press, 2021)

    Nina Kraus, "Of Sound Mind: How Our Brain Constructs a Meaningful Sonic World" (MIT Press, 2021)

    Making sense of sound is one of the hardest jobs we ask our brains to do. In Of Sound Mind: How Our Brain Constructs a Meaningful Sonic World (MIT Press, 2021), Nina Kraus examines the partnership of sound and brain, showing for the first time that the processing of sound drives many of the brain's core functions. Our hearing is always on—we can't close our ears the way we close our eyes—and yet we can ignore sounds that are unimportant. We don't just hear; we engage with sounds. Kraus explores what goes on in our brains when we hear a word—or a chord, or a meow, or a screech.
    Our hearing brain, Kraus tells us, is vast. It interacts with what we know, with our emotions, with how we think, with our movements, and with our other senses. Auditory neurons make calculations at one-thousandth of a second; hearing is the speediest of our senses. Sound plays an unrecognized role in both healthy and hurting brains. Kraus explores the power of music for healing as well as the destructive power of noise on the nervous system. She traces what happens in the brain when we speak another language, have a language disorder, experience rhythm, listen to birdsong, or suffer a concussion. Kraus shows how our engagement with sound leaves a fundamental imprint on who we are. The sounds of our lives shape our brains, for better and for worse, and help us build the sonic world we live in.
    Galina Limorenko is a doctoral candidate in Neuroscience with a focus on biochemistry and molecular biology of neurodegenerative diseases at EPFL in Switzerland. To discuss and propose the book for an interview you can reach her at galina.limorenko@epfl.ch.
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    • 1 hr 4 min
    Nolan Gasser, "Why You Like It: The Science and Culture of Musical Taste" (Flatiron Books, 2019)

    Nolan Gasser, "Why You Like It: The Science and Culture of Musical Taste" (Flatiron Books, 2019)

    Why do we love the music we love? In Why You Like IT: The Science & Culture of Musical Taste (Flatiron Books, 2019) musicologist Nolan Gasser, architect of Pandora Radio’s Music Genome Project, discusses how psychology, anthropology, history, sociology, and culture combine to define our musical tastes—what he calls “inculturing.” From the Northern California Redwoods to Paris to Africa, from Nashville to New York City, and from medieval music to Phillip Glass to Led Zeppelin to Taylor Swift, Dr. Gasser takes us on a ride through our minds and how they process, understand and, yes, like music.
    David Hamilton Golland is professor of history and immediate past president of the faculty senate at Governors State University in Chicago's southland. @DHGolland.
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    • 57 min

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